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RE: [Indo-Eurasia] Re: ** Stratification

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  • Lars Martin Fosse
    Stephen, Do you have a bibliographical reference for Kingsbury s dissertation? I would be interested in seeing what he does. Lars Martin From: Dr.art. Lars
    Message 1 of 31 , Sep 1, 2006

      Do you have a bibliographical reference for Kingsbury's dissertation? I
      would be interested in seeing what he does.

      Lars Martin

      Dr.art. Lars Martin Fosse
      Haugerudvn. 76, Leil. 114,
      0674 Oslo - Norway
      Phone: +47 22 32 12 19 Fax: +47 850 21 250
      Mobile phone: +47 90 91 91 45
      E-mail: lmfosse@...
    • Claus Peter Zoller
      Dear List, I am very sorry for my belated contribution on stratification in South Asian oral epics, but I was held up by other urgent work. I want to divide my
      Message 31 of 31 , Sep 18, 2006
        Dear List,

        I am very sorry for my belated contribution on
        stratification in South Asian oral epics, but I was
        held up by other urgent work. I want to divide my Mail
        into two parts. The first consists of rather general
        remarks and observations; the second has a closer look
        at an oral version of the Mahabharata from the Indian
        Himalayas. The first part also reflects some results
        that came out of discussions I recently had with Peter
        Claus from California who has done extensive work on
        oral epics and performance traditions in South India.

        Oral epics have always to be seen in relationship to
        written and to oral-derived epics. There are known
        cases (e.g. Mahabharata traditions in Tamil Nadu, the
        Hir-Ranjha epic in Panjab) of long histories of mutual
        influence. The “influence” may, however, be also
        limited in such a way (which has indeed been observed)
        that illiterate performers of oral epics carry along
        with them a manuscript or printed version of the epic
        as kind of status symbols.

        Oral epics are frequently handed down in more than one
        tradition, e.g. there are quite a number of oral
        Mahabharata traditions in India.

        In both these cases stratifications may build up as a
        result of borrowing from a written or from a parallel
        oral tradition. This appears to be fairly frequently
        the case in South India where, according to Peter, it
        is quite common that both performers and their patron
        audiences visit performances of their competitors.
        However, this is not everywhere the case, and in the
        traditions directly known to me it seems almost
        impossible to detect stratifications (but I will
        discuss one case in the second Mail).

        Non-occurrence of mutual borrowing and stratification
        has perhaps a similar background as the one described
        by the linguist R.M.W. Dixon (The Rise and Fall of
        Languages) for differentiation processes between
        contagious dialects where difference between dialects
        is frequently stressed for “political” reasons. In
        Western Uttarancal the oral Mahabharata epic is handed
        down by low-caste bards, but virtually in the same
        places there are oral Mahabharata stories handed down
        by Rajputs, and other stories and songs handed down by
        Brahmins. And they all differ with regard to
        performance style and contents (and my suspicion is
        that they ought to differ). The bards of this area
        certainly have occasion to visit performances of other
        singers of the same tradition and anyway when the epic
        is performed there are always other bards present who
        frequently interrupt the performance with critical
        remarks. The geographically closest other oral
        Mahabharata epic traditions are, to my knowledge, in
        Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh and in the central Garhwal
        Himalayas. Even though they are geographically quite
        close I am very sure that no mutual influence has
        taken place in recent times.

        This brings us to a problem that continues to trouble
        some of us who work on oral traditions. An example: a
        number of oral Mahabharata epics from different parts
        of India share common plots which they seem not to
        have borrowed from the written Sanskrit epic (because
        it’s not mentioned there), but which they also cannot
        have mutually borrowed in recent times. The
        Vasihnavisation of the written Sanskrit Mahabharata
        through Brahmins has already been mentioned in this
        List; the parallels in the oral versions which are not
        found in the Sanskrit text may go back to
        appropriation and re-spreading processes of the epic
        through itinerant Yogi groups, especially the Nath
        Yogis, in the middle ages. This is quite difficult to
        demonstrate, but I will try this in my next post.

        The discussion of the phenomenon of stratification in
        oral epics and in written texts runs the danger that
        oral epics tend to be seen just as not (yet) written
        texts. But this would be misleading.

        First, it might be useful to distinguish between
        ‘inscriptional’ texts (both written and oral) and
        ‘emergent’ texts (oral only). ‘Inscriptional’ texts -
        whether they are written or oral (as in the Vedic
        tradition) or oral-derived (as, e.g., in the Bhakti
        traditions), and whether they are interpreted as being
        compositions of human authors or as revelations of
        superhuman beings or holy persons, are located in a
        more or less distant past. This makes them susceptible
        to stratification and related processes. ‘Emergent’
        texts, e.g. produced by creative Bhakti poets/saints
        appear to be little susceptible to stratification
        processes (but other things happen once writing down
        has started which I tentatively call ‘multiplications’
        – more on this perhaps in another mail). The way I
        see it, oral epics in South Asia have both
        ‘inscriptional’ and ‘emergent text’ features; they
        have ‘inscriptional’ features because the singers are
        not seen as creative, inspired authors producing
        something quite new (even though the singers are
        usually known for their particular styles); and they
        are also ‘emergent’ texts because they are frequently
        seen as being revelatory. Thus, whereas stratification
        might or might not be a typical characteristic of an
        oral epic tradition, the phenomenon of gradual
        accretion (thanks E. Bruce Brooks) certainly is;
        accretion being a result of ongoing contextualization.

        Second, a philological approach is probably not the
        best one vis-à-vis the fact of the fast speed and
        fleetingness at which oral epics are performed, out of
        which always only small fractions can be documented
        and analysed. We have to be aware of the fact that
        almost all oral performances remain undocumented.
        Moreover, documentations concentrate usually on the
        textual parts and regard other dimensions of a
        performance – religious, aesthetic, socioeconomic,
        etc. – as of secondary importance, or they do not
        consider the fact that such performances are usually
        part of much more comprehensive discourses. For
        getting better results Peter has suggested to approach
        oral epics not as philologists but rather like
        archaeologists, i.e. as teams where each member
        approaches the phenomenon from a different angle, and
        where a lot of high tech documentation stuff gets

        Thus, in attempting to answer how stratifications turn
        up in oral epics it is not sufficient to look just at
        the recorded texts. Normally they are embedded in more
        comprehensive (and stratified) contexts, and quite
        frequently they either refer to these or to other epic
        traditions. More on this in my next post.

        I had to write down all this with great haste. So if
        one or another point remains unclear I’ll try to
        clarify it later-on.

        Claus Peter

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